Sockers set to kick off Pacific Division playoffs on Sunday

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The San Diego Section boys and girls soccer playoffs are set to conclude with championship games at San Diego Mesa College and Olympian High School this weekend, March 4 and 5. The San Diego Sockers hope to make a championship splash as well as they kick off the Major Arena Soccer League’s Pacific Division playoffs.

The Sockers, no strangers to hoisting championship trophies, will host the Tacoma Stars in the return leg of a two-game playoff series Sunday, March 6, at the Valley View Casino Center. Kick-off is 5:05 p.m.

The San Diego Section boys and girls soccer playoffs are set to conclude with championship games at San Diego Mesa College and Olympian High School this weekend, March 4 and 5. The San Diego Sockers hope to make a championship splash as well as they kick off the Major Arena Soccer League’s Pacific Division playoffs.

The Sockers, no strangers to hoisting championship trophies, will host the Tacoma Stars in the return leg of a two-game playoff series Sunday, March 6, at the Valley View Casino Center. Kick-off is 5:05 p.m.

The Sockers were scheduled to kick off their series against the Stars on Wednesday in Washington. Should the teams split the two games, a 15-minute mini-game will be played following Sunday’s second game to determine which team advances to the Pacific Division Final against regular season division champion Soles de Sonora.

Both the Sockers and Stars finished with 13-7 regular season records but the Sockers clinched second place in the division based on two wins in the three games between the teams.

Sonora finished regular season play 17-3.

“We’re excited to go to Tacoma and get ourselves ready with this first round,” Sockers midfielder Brian Farber said. “Hopefully we’ll come back here with a win. We’ve been challenged for the last couple of weeks and now we’re ready for the playoffs.”

The Sockers have some pay back to deliver to the Stars after coming up short, 8-7, on a goal just 1.9 seconds before the final buzzer in a game in Tacoma on Feb. 20.

The Sockers have since followed that heart-breaking loss with a pair of comprehensive, if not dominating, wins to set the stage for the playoffs. The Sockers defeated the visiting Turlock Express, 10-2, on Feb. 21 and concluded regular season play with an 8-3 victory against the Dallas Sidekicks before one of their largest and most vocal home crowds this season.

Team scoring leader Kraig Chiles had four goals and two assists while Farber recorded a hat trick and added two assists in the win over the Express.

Fellow Sockers veteran Anthony Medina got the scoring going in Sunday’s regular season finale by deftly redirecting a beautiful through pass from teammate Nick Perera. Chiles made it 2-0 on a similar one-touch goal just before the end of the first quarter.

Chiles, who ranks second in all-time Sockers scoring, finished the game with two goals and three assists.

Medina, a Valhalla High School alumnus, is playing in his seventh season with the team, matching Chiles.

Medina is an original member of the Sockers’ third incarnation team and has won four league championships with the team and eight championship trophies overall.

The six-foot-one, 185-pound attacking midfielder was in the line-up for all 48 games when the Sockers set a new United States professional team sports record for consecutive wins from Dec 29, 2010 to Jan. 27, 2013. The streak stretched over the course of three seasons and four calendar years and included two Professional Arena Soccer League championships, two U.S. Arena Soccer Open Cup championships and a FIFRA club championship title.

Farber, another veteran who was sidelined for much of the season with a leg injury, has energized the team since his return. The Sockers are 5-0 with him in the line-up.

Despite the two runaway wins in their final two games of regular season play, the Sockers have been involved in six one-goal games in their last nine outings.

Getting his kicks

Chiles passed Sockers legend Juli Veee on the team's all-time scoring chart earlier this season. Veee accumulated 254 regular season goals in his illustrious indoor soccer career with the Sockers (1981-84, 85-88).

Chiles opened the 2015-16 MASL season trailing Veee by eight goals. The Poway High School and San Diego State University alumnus passed the Sockers' first indoor soccer superstar on Dec. 10 when he tallied his 255th career goal in an 8-1 win over Athletico Baja. Medina drew the assist on Chiles’ history-making goal.

Chiles finished regular season play second in the MASL with 55 points on 28 goals and 27 assists. This marks the fifth consecutive season in which Chiles has surpassed the 50-point plateau.

Chiles scored 274 career goals for the Sockers. He has scored more than 30 goals in five of his seven seasons with the team.

That leaves only Branko Segota (1984-91) in the club's all-time scoring lead. Chiles could pass him to become the Sockers’ all-time scoring leader sometime during the 2016-17 season.

Chiles finished seven points behind 2015-16 MASL scoring champion Franck Tayou, who posted a stunning season for Soles de Sonora with 47 goals and 15 assists.

Most inspirational

Norbert Stein, 103, delivered an inspirational pre-game speech to the Sockers prior to Sunday’s game. It has become a team ritual for the Sockers and their official No. 1 fan. But the team was inspired by more than just Stein's words in Sunday's win. Present for the game, but not suited up, was Evan Mundine.

Mundine gained notoriety by signing a one-game contract with the Sockers and scoring a goal in a MASL game on Jan. 31 at the Valley View Casino Center. Mundine, now 18, suffers from a series of medical maladies that have made his life painful, and excruciatingly so. He suffers from a rare genetic disorder known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and also suffers from Crohn's disease and brittle bone disorder.

He required open-chest surgery at one point.

A native of Bastrop, TX, (near Austin), Mundine has followed Farber’s soccer career for nearly a decade after the two met when Farber signed an autograph for Mundine while Farber was playing outdoor soccer for the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer.

The moment lit up Mundine’s life and he never forgot Farber’s generosity – and humanity. The two have since maintained a correspondence and, through Farber’s efforts, helped Mundine make a dream come true.

Mundine had played youth soccer until his medical condition worsened a couple years ago. The Sockers helped with travel and housing expenses to make Mundine’s first trip possible to San Diego.

Mundine, then 17, was aglow at the contract signing and jersey presentation. It was something he did not expect to happen …nor what came next: actually starting the game.

Farber took the kick-off, dribbled down the left side of the field and passed in front of the net to Mundine, who scored into an open corner on a left-footed shot.

The spotlight quickly enveloped the Texas teen as horns sounded and fans cheered just seven seconds into the match. Inspired by Mundine’s presence – and game-opening goal – the Sockers went on to post an eventual 13-4 win over Tacoma.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure,” Mundine said during a break in Sunday’s game.

It was such a good experience that Mundine and his mother Frieda ventured to San Diego a second time — this time to watch the Sockers in their final regular season game.

Mundine sat is a wheelchair behind one of the nets. He had the best seat in the house.

He termed it a “perfect experience.”

“It’s obviously a lot of fun to be back – the atmosphere is really good,” he said.

And he has gained inner strength from it.

“In some ways I think I’ve been through a lot but, you know, I’m stronger because of it,” he wrote in his online blog.

The Sockers are also playing for the memory of Abel “Shadow” Sebele, who died in a traffic accident on Jan. 7. Sebele, a native of Zimbabwe, had only joined the Sockers this season. He played in four games before his untimely death.

The Sockers greatly miss Sebele both on and off the field, according to team members.

Celebrity game

Sunday’s Sockers-Sidekicks match featured a celebrity halftime game. Former Sockers player and current director of player personnel Aaron Susi scored both goals for the winning team, including the winner with five seconds to play that hit the top corner on a perfectly-place shot from near midfield.

Former San Diego Gulls fan favorite B.J. MacPherson was the winning goalkeeper in his indoor soccer debut. MacPherson, who suffered a career-ending neck injury during the third game of the 2001 Taylor Cup Finals in Boise, Idaho, made what proved to be a somewhat difficult game-saving stop just 10 seconds before Susi popped in the game-winning goal.

MacPherson was among several former Gulls who remained in San Diego following the team’s demise in 2006. He continues to live in Point Loma and now coaches his two daughters in youth baseball.

MacPherson, who played for the Gulls in the West Coast Hockey League from 1996-2001, watched his hockey teammates defeat the Idaho Steelheads, 4-1, in a climactic Game 7, from a wheelchair in the arena. He made a vow to return to play hockey and, though it took years, he did play in two Gulls alumni games and also in an adult ice hockey league.

Now he serves as the color analyst for radio broadcasts of the new San Diego Gulls franchise in the American Hockey League. Former Sockers broadcaster Craig Elsten now serves as the voice of the Gulls.

Elsten was the losing goalkeeper in the match-up of broadcasting partners in the 10-minute celebrity game.

But even few professional goalkeepers could have likely defended Susi’s well-place shot.

“It was fun, I wish we could do it every week,” MacPherson said after the celebrity game. “It was great. There was one guy who got past me and I made sure to grab his leg.”

The celebrity game also featured former Socker (and Grossmont High School alumnus) Paul Wright, now 46.

“It was a lot of fun — hopefully, we can do this again next year,” Wright said.

Elsten and MacPherson have had a lively time calling games for the AHL Gulls, who finished the month of February with an 8-2-1 record to move into sole possession of third place in the Pacific Division standings and solid contention for a post-season Calder Cup playoff berth.

The Gulls (27-20-1-2) have 57 points and a .570 points percentage through 50 games heading into this weekend’s back-to-back games against the visiting Stockton Heat.

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